How smart are you without your smartphone?

It seems almost everyone uses a smartphone. These gadgets have outsold the PC for the past two years. You would be hard pressed to find a business person who uses an entry-level cell phone. For many people it’s difficult to live without the new breed of app eating, mega-memory phones. They have an abundance of valuable traits, such as always-on Internet, instant access to e-mails and a host of useful apps.

So let’s look at the psychology of smartphone usage. Technology, business and culture author Nicolas Carr demonstrated very succinctly the Internet’s damaging effects on the mind. You can only assume that smartphones have the same consequences. For years evidence against the multitasking myth has been mounting. It turns out it’s not smart to text while driving, and it’s not smart to BBM while in a business meeting. However, it may be smart to read an e-book while waiting in the queue to renew your driver’s license.

What makes this particular personal technology so different is its endless bells and whistles. Current smartphone processors are 1 000 times more powerful than a desktop PC from 1995, when the Internet was in its infancy. Even if you choose to live without one, your company may require you to use it. So much of our behaviour changed forever with the advent of the BlackBerry and its always-on Blackberry Internet Service (BIS). This became the standard for staff to stay in touch outside the office and for management to get constant progress updates.
In 2009, I did a series of seminars across South Africa, sponsored by BulkSMS, that focused on ‘technology stress’. I reported findings from a range of studies of male and female employees. With female employees, their personal lives interrupted them more often at work, while males were more often interrupted at home as they are easily reached on their smartphones and have direct access to their e-mail.

At some point it becomes clear we need to readjust our priorities. Greek philosopher Socrates said: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” So let’s examine what causes you to be not so smart:

  1. Complexity – The more complex our daily lives and business projects are, the more we need clarity to make good, effective decisions.
  2. Confusion – The more choices we have to make, the more confused we become. This often leads to analysis paralyses and an increased opportunity cost.
  3. Conflict – When combined, increased complexity and unresolved confusion lead to conflict between individuals, teams, staff, management, clients, suppliers or a combination of all of them.

There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. A host of mobile apps are now available for brain training. These go hand in hand with taking time out for relaxation. Besides switching off your smartphone, listening to Binaural Beats ( before big presentations or at night before sleeping is a useful way to increase focus and enhance concentration.

Ramon Thomas is the author of The Psychology of Technology and is available as a guest speaker for conferences, team building and planning sessions. Contact him on +27 (0)81 439 9555 or visit